By Michael Petrosky, M.D., F.A.A.P., Pediatric Alliance — Wexford

 

Autism: Eyes Point Internally

 

 

Even with all the advancements in medical science and knowledge gained on autism recently, the cause remains elusive. A recent study published in Nature sheds a little more light on a genetic component of autism.

Researchers monitored eye movements of over 300 toddlers (18-24 months of age) while they watched videos of motherly women and playing children. This study included normally-developing children divided into pairs of identical twins, pairs of non-identical twins, and pairs of unrelated toddlers. Additionally, 88 participants with a diagnosis of autism were also included.

Identical twins share the same DNA, whereas fraternal twins only share 50%. This is important because a large difference on how often a child looked at eyes during the video between the two twin groups suggests a strong genetic factor in this trait. The data showed that the identical twins’ time spent making eye contact matched 91% of the time, while the fraternal twin group percentage dropped to only 35%. Clearly, this social behavior has a strong genetic component. However, one’s life experiences also help mold this eye contact, as the identical twins did not have a 100% match.

Looking at the children diagnosed with autism, they looked at faces half as often as their typical peers. Instead, they looked at objects twice as much. This pattern was so consistent that the researchers almost always identified the autistic children based solely on the eye tracking results.

So what does all this tell us? First, there is a very strong genetic component to a trait that is strongly associated with an autistic individual. This leads to different patterns of brain development. With this knowledge, treatments could be developed like gene therapy. Secondly, the striking difference in the performance of this activity between children with and without autism can aid in diagnosis. This newer technology may be a tool to help with earlier diagnosis.

Science has only scratched the surface of this condition, but lots of knowledge has been gained. Where will this lead? Only future research can tell us.

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Please join us Saturday, August 12 at the Woodlands Foundation, 134 Shenot Road, Wexford, PA, for a Pediatric Alliance workshop, “It Takes A Village: Autism/Learning Disabilities.” Here is the lineup of speakers:

A Significant Difficulty – Autism Spectrum Disorder: A discussion with a focus on early diagnosis, new research, socialization, and other therapies — presented by Michael Petrosky, MD, FAAP, Pediatric Alliance — Wexford.

Executive Functioning: This encompasses cognitive, behavioral, and emotional regulation — presented by Dr. Erika Buchanan, Licensed Psychologist and Certified School Psychologist from the Center for Pediatric Neuropsychology.

Learning Disabilities and Navigating School Based Services — presented by Damian Ternullo, MD, FAAP, Pediatric Alliance — St. Clair.

Guest speaker: Kristin C. Weidus, Esq., Ruder Law – Advocates for the rights of children in public schools.

The Woodlands Foundation: Enrichment for people of all ages living with disabilities and chronic illness, while providing respite for families — presented by Jesse Solomon, Director of Programs.

 

Local resources will be available with materials and additional information following Q&A.

 

Learn more about “It Takes A Village: Autism/Learning Disabilities” and register for the class here.